10 things about the Netherlands

I’ve been home for two weeks, and have a few reflections about the trip I recently took. I wrote this post mostly while in Holland, but only organized it this past weekend.

International travel is an essential thing for Americans to do. Even though we are a culture profoundly in love with the “road trip,” America is a very isolated country; -isolated physically, socially, intellectually, and emotionally, from much of the rest of the world.

So here are a few thoughts-

10. “God made the world, but the Dutch made the Netherlands”

This local saying is historically accurate, because of the 15,000 square miles of the country (it’s about the size of new jersey) over half has been reclaimed from swampland and the ocean.

There is a constant struggle with/against the water that defines foundational Dutch culture. The Dutch claim that they are resourceful because they “…are always fighting the water.”

Maybe speedskating is part of that triumph over water, it’s the moment where this tremendous threat, becomes something they can walk & even fly across.

Needless to say, global warming has the Dutch a little bit worried. They call the land they have reclaimed from the sea “the Polder” and its VERY lush, green, and pretty.

9. Wooden Shoes & Windmills
Really, these popular icons mean something else entirely. They are not cute, they are symbols of the constant fight against the water.

The windmills are running to keep pumping water out (modern ones are generating electricity for pumping stations). And wooden shoes are cheap, waterproof footwear for poor farmers, the upturned tip helps them not sink into the mud.. Also, coincidentally, they provided a nice hard surface to strap an iron blade onto.

Translation for the non-dutch-
Wooden shoes = Steel toed workboots for tough farmers.
Windmills = insurance against your real estate investment/house having it’s value washed away in an instant (As the American housing market crumbles, I wish I had a windmill proof against this rising tide).

8. Bike Paths
Holland is about 250 kilometers long and under 200 wide, and somehow they squeezed 6,000 kilometers of bike paths in there. It’s a cycling and (when its not raining) inline skating paradise!

From bankers to grandmas, fashionable hipsters to blue-collar workers, children & junkies, everyone rides an old, beat up cruiser in every weather condition.

Bikes RULE the streets. Cars & even the massive trams give way to the swarms of cyclists

Here is a bicycle parking garage near central station, downtown Amsterdam. 3 floors, thousands upon thousands of cheap cruisers. The boat is also mass transit!

In the past 10 years, car ownership has quadrupled, and massive traffic jams between cities are becoming normal. However for inter-city transit, bikes still rule.

7. Amsterdam Canals at night
A quiet, rainy evening, full of pedestrians & beautiful lights on the water, click for a larger image-

A discerning observer will notice the red lights along the windows on the sides of this picture, and these signify the legalized prostitution of the red light district. The women stand in the windows & beckon to you, if the curtains are drawn, they are “busy.”

It’s a little shocking for people from sexually repressed cultures (like, umm… America) to see this.

Lest my fellow Americans get all indignant & huffy, look in the phonebook of ANY American city, what the heck do you think the “ESCORT SERVICES” section is?

This is just how our culture does the same… exact.. thing…. In every society, there will always be women who sell sex & men who buy it. How it’s done is just local detail.

6. For George’s Wife
I did this brief video for people to see the awesome inline skating that can be done along the shores of the inland seas (the Iselmeer). I did this video for George’s wife, who has never seen her husband, a 3 time elfstendentocht finisher, skate. George is in his 50’s, and can still really motor along. (click here for the quicktime)

The music is a local drinking song, about a father, a son, the ocean, & loss. It was recommended to me by several Dutch friends, they say it’s one of those songs that make people sway, sniffle back a tear, and sing at the top of their lungs.

5. Pannenkoek

Definitely in the category of “yummy beyond all comprehension!” we have an apple sugar Pannekoek, and then a Brie & Pineapple!!!

Why did this trip so center around food? It must be all that endurance work I did this summer, it made me hungry!

4. The Elfstedentocht
Translation to Americans: To have finished this 200 kilometer race is like having been allowed to play in the Superbowl. And a Superbowl that only happens roughly once every decade or so.

Here is Jules’s timecard & finish medal. You pass through 11 cities, and get a stamp at every city along the way. Even the leading pack does this, and if you miss a stamp, you are DQ-ed

3. Overheard…

While taking the picture of this monolith to the right, I overheard some Irish tourists, having an absolutely screaming argument behind me. I will never forget what one young woman said (imagine this said in the thickest Irish accent you’ve ever heard)-

“We are not in bloody Dublin anymore, we’ve been in Amsterdam for DAYS, and I haven’t had one f***ing joint yet!”

We met quite a few folks from the UK who were over in Amsterdam to sample these “coffee shops” that don’t serve much coffee at all (including a really neat couple in their 60’s Jess & I had a lovely chat with over a pint of Belgian beer).

2. Raw, Pickled Herring
My father has a rule, “If there is something on the menu that scares you, this is what you must order.” I have had many interesting meals following this rule, and this local delicacy was quite tasty.

Raw herring is basically Dutch sushi that makes your breath smell like gasoline for a while.

But a son never truly tops his parents. My mom & dad are in Italy, and emailed me that they ate sea urchin roe and spaghetti!!! I am both disgusted and jealous at the same time.

1. The Anne Frank House
Just go and see it. It hurts. A lot. Go and see it. This picture is the water in the canal, reflecting the house, on the day I visited.

The central message of this house is not the past, it’s the future;

The Anne Frank House is there to remind us that Fascism does not always wear a swastika; Fascism adopts local customs & cultural camouflage.

Claiming to be the super-patriots & the most true to heritage & country, fascism is about hatred & fearful disgust of people who are different. Religion, ethnicity, language, sexual preference, anything that is used to leverage a “cult of personality” by a few individuals who use a fearful, downtrodden public for their own machinations, -that is fascism.

And fascism is what murdered Anne Frank, and this is what a civil, decent, open society that truly believes in “love thy neighbor” must fight tooth and nail against, exposing it for what it really is.

I did not mean to end this entry on such a down note, because I loved the Netherlands, and want to go back, especially when I will have a chance to skate ovals that have pacelines so long, they meet in one long mobius strip of churning athletes.

But sometimes living in this world means seeing awful things with open eyes

20 Responses to “10 things about the Netherlands”

  1. great video. How wide is that dike? It looks pretty narrow. Thanks again. It makes me think i went on vacation.

  2. Andrew,

    Thanks for shareing your experiance in Holland!

    The Herring just makes my mouth water anytime I see it, in a photo, or in the grocery store….Pickled Yum :)

  3. Excellent post Andrew- thanks a ton. You make me want to travel there and everywhere!

  4. Andrew, dankt u voor het schrijven over Nederland en voor het delen van uw video van de rand van Nederland. Het was keurig om te letten op u gaat onderaan de helling en omhoog de andere kant. Ik word zo tevredengesteld door de manier u uw blog en toewijding schrijft die met de manier uw gearticuleerd uw woorden doorkomt. Dank u zo zeer!

  5. how wide is the dike? as a dike inliner regular, sue, i can tell you it’s narrow. almost too narrow for two bikes next to each other. definitely too narrow for 2 inliners.. you have to adjust your stroke - don’t stride to the sides. or you get stuck in the grass or mud. Straightforward, that’s the message. Still, if you fall, you’ll have a soft landing in that grass. On clear days, there is water and the horizon of no horizon. When cloudy you look into the most gigantic cloudworlds. There is always wind and mostly stormy weather.
    Inliners paradise.

  6. yes, the dike was narrow, I could’t really do a big push, but the views & lack of cars made up for it!! We skated 34 kilometers that day, about half on the dike, half on perfect farmland bike paths that were wider & really lovely, the sheep, crane & horses in the video were from those paths.

    I LOVE IT when I get comments in other languages!! here is how babel fish translates SKEELERS Dutch comment into english

    “Andrew, thank you for writing concerning the Netherlands and for sharing your video of the edge of the Netherlands. It was neat to pay attention to you goes below the slope and omhoog the other side. I am this way satisfied by the manner you your blog and devotion writes which passes your articulated your words with the manner. Thanks you so much!”

  7. Adrew you make me proud being a dutchman when i read this post.
    I realy hope we will have very soon a elfstedentocht again, because when i have that elfstedentocht medal my live is complete. Please pray for us! because a elfstedentocht is the only thing we cannot make by ourself.

  8. Thanks Andrew! Looking through the eyes of an American, seeing my husband skate in the polders and on the dikes along the IJsselmeer was a great experience. Especially his ‘polderstyle’.
    Maybe you can come back once to help him with the double push he keeps on talking about ever since you gave him a demonstration of this more sophisticated way of skating.

  9. Hi Andrew, Jessica and all other fellow travellers on blades or wheels. What you see on the movie is a good example of the Dutch ‘polderslag”, a style typical for ice skaters who in their younger years (before the global warm up) used to skated on ‘natuurijs’ only. Remember ‘polderijs’ is not the same as oval ice. Because of unforseen holes in the ice and unfrozen spots (wakken), gas bubbles underneath the surface (bomijs) which make the ice break under your blades like glass and the many deep cracks (scheuren) it isn’t wise to bend to much to the left or to the right when balancing on one leg. The polderstyle means staying in the middle to prevent loosing balance and falling (tegen het ijs smakken).
    Andrew, it was a great experience to make this tour with you on the dikes on this beautiful sunny friday morning. May be we meet again during ‘een echte elfstedentocht in Holland.’

  10. Hello Andrew,

    let me first tell you, that I don’t know much about the U.S.A. (except from my own prejudices and my admiration for the Jewish answer to J. Krishnamurti, t.i. the American comedian, director, composer, loving husband and so on and so on Mel Brooks), but that I’m happy to live in a street in Amsterdam, not very far from this VERY VERY good American Taco restaurant, called The Taco Shop, Tolstraat 200, near the library of the Dutch section of the Theosophical Society, which Society has not much to do with taco’s, but the more with J. Krishnamurti (the Indian counterpart of Mel Brooks). Anyhow, what I wanted you to know is, reacting on your words about the Dutch windmills, that the worlds tallest windmills are to see in the pittoresc centre of a small town near Rotterdam: Schiedam.
    Being a proud former citizen of this “pearl beyond prices” of the Netherlands, I couldn’t resist to take the opportunity to tell you about these Big Men of Stone!
    When you look at http://goeurope.about.com/od/amsterdampictures/ig/tallest-windmill-pictures/index.htm
    you will find out more! Enjoy your virtual visit!

    With greetings,

    Peter van der Linden

  11. i totally want to go to the netherlands just to have a pannenkoek. sarah said that she’d go, but we have to go to italy as well. so i’m cool with that. one of these days that we both don’t have work at the same time, it’ll be good.
    I just got a video camera (go me) so i’m going to start putting videos up on the blog that i never update.
    hope training is going well for everyone.
    -the crash

  12. Very nice posting!. I particularly liked how you ended it. I found it the most up-lifting part of your post…. Yes Andrew, Those who cloak themselves in good deeds are indeed well camouflage.

  13. and I almost did not put that last bit in, it’s so different than what I usually do in this webspace….

    but I was recently reading a definition of what Fascism is, and I realized that I had never thought of what the “components” of it are…. It changes skin depending on the culture, but the basic ideas are the same…

    as always, I am deeply appriciative of all your comments.. Especially from the Dutch folks, this is your home, and I tried to describe what I noticed as well as I could..

    But I am just one person, one pair of eyes, one camera,

    and there was SOOO much, like the Van Gogh musuem is amazing, so is the central church in Haarlem, so was the modern photography gallery “foam”, the exhibit on “heroes” in the “new church”.. the Tulip market.. The friday night skate!! Vla!!!

    I could have easily written “100 things about the Netherlands”, but it would have taken 6 months to finish!!!

  14. Andrew, you are making my days these days.
    what a wonderfull view on our cultural heritage of inlining on the dikes.

    Pardon me for a few words about the Zuiderzeeballade - Southsea ballad.
    The song is about a grandson asking his grandfather about a picture he found at the attic. At a certain point little boys asks about the youbng guy on this photoo. “That boy is your uncle - he is dead”. He was killed in a voracious storm” The ballad continues and here is my little point. It goes: “nobody can control or push down the sea without punishment. ” It literally says that grandpa sees ” the hand and the power of our Lord”" in the killing of grandpa’s son.
    An interesting undertone & undertow in this classical singalong song. This tiny minute calvinistic contra-punt is the more remarkable if you realize that this song is being sung after a beer of ten in cafees and is also very popular at LT- competition races during “dweilpauzes” - ice-preparations - . Played by the hoempa-hoempa orchestra’s joined by the crowds on the stands. Of course they don’t know and quite often care about our Lord….
    Skaitng, singing, beers, our Lord — doesn’t that make a terrific company… actually, this Southseaballad is one of these tunes that keep going on in your head — at a certain point it’s a pain in the head…

    link for babelfishers: http://www.schokland.nl/schokland/zuiderzeeballade.htm

    skeelermore: wanneer skate jij daar in waterland…

    ellie: long time no see - geweldig dat ik je hier even tegenkom.. goed fillumpie vinjenie

    george: see you - good instruction btw.

    peter: gaat die goed? did krisnamurti skate? and what about Mel brooks - i would love to see him skating/inlining

    andrew: give us some more of the remaining 90 points -especially your photoos make my very hungry (also literally)

    thanksand good push

  15. Hi Jules, like the Kneet said, I sit a little bit in a wakkie, but - like Gloria Gaynor said - I will survive and for the moment - like Liberace said - I crie all the way to the bank.

    Krishnamurti on skates, I don’t know. About Brooks neither,
    but his “History of the world part 1″ ended with - among others - a scene called Jews on ice, if I remember it well.

    A good movie with a iceskatingelement: To die for (with Nicole Kidman). Warm aanbevolen! Warmly recommened!

    Peter (prefers vanille and stracciatella)

  16. Actually Peter, history of the world part I ends with “Hitler on ice” and “Jews on Space”.

    Anyway, great posting Andrew…. Funny to see an all american boy all touched by that crazy flat country on the other side of the pond.

    Jules, about the Dutch bringing together 19th century Calvinist values and 21st century ones is one of the most quaint aspects a foreigner encounters visiting this country. besides it is not really a new phenomenon, Heineken beer got started by the son of a well established family (Family Heineken) that was very much opposed to drinking. The son, actually got financed by his mom with the argument that by making people drink beer they would consume less hard alcohol, thus reducing public drunkenness. I always say that this form of thinking truly exemplifies the Dutch character.

    Eric Kraan.

  17. To anyone who is curious to know how civic responsibility sometimes intersects with our wonderful sport, I’m happy to be the bearer of good news. USSPEEDSKATING has been forced, by higher authorities, to re-write some of its rules.

    I’m happy to report that your Board members are no longer allowed to hold those positions for life, but now are subject to term limits. Also, more specific rules have been written against conflicts of interest.

    Have a great season,


  18. Hi Andrew,
    Thanks a lot for this great post!
    I’m dutch and I’m in Norway now for 6 months. Today was quite a hard day for me, because I’m missing my country and friends.
    But this post (and the other ones of your trip) actually make me feel better!
    Dank je wel!


    (Luckily they do have pannenkoeken here in Norway!!)

  19. Eric,

    like all religious men Mel has stories for the big crowd and (esoteric) stories for his inner circle. Of course your’ right: History of the world ends with Hitler on ice and Jews in space, but in the esoteric version its the other way around. Of course this completely fits with the story about Hitler, which says the Adolf didn’t die in Berlin, but was taken out by a UFO! And it fits with Mel’s Hitlerrap, with Hitler singing: Auf wiedersehn
    good to’ve seen ya I got a one way ticket to Argentina.

    More about Jews on ice in this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEXEVtmkA9Q


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    Check out the reviews about this: http://bargains-hunter.blogspot.com

    It’s not theories but carefully researched hard facts.



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